New scramble

Cecil Rhodes is not dead. To be more exact, the imperialist spirit of Cecil Rhodes is not dead. For all the claptrap you still hear on occasion, imperialism, unfortunately, is alive and well and spreading its wings even further. What it has done, though, is dramatically clean up its presentation and is now quite adept at turning its ‘democratic’, civilised face to the oppressed masses.

United States officials have for some time been openly talking about the so-called “friendly scramble for Africa”. The current turmoil in Zaire demonstrates imperialism’s ‘new turn’ vividly - whether it remains “friendly” is a moot point. Whatever the outcome - friendly or hostile, peaceful or violent - the African masses will find themselves enslaved by capital.

The rebel upsurge and the imminent downfall of the regime of Mobutu has seen the ex-Belgian colony of Zaire become a site for imperialist rivalry. France has backed (and armed) its client dictator Mobutu faithfully right up to the wire. Even now, France cannot bring itself to denounce Mobutu and Mobutuism. America, on the other hand, has had no such scruples. It - with the approval of Britain - has unceremoniously dumped Mobutu and has put its imperial weight behind the “old Marxist” and ex-comrade of Che Guevara, Laurent Kabila, and his Alliance for the Liberation of Congo-Zaire.

Without doubt, a reconfiguration of capitalism and imperialism is taking place. With the Soviet Union a distant memory, American capital is going into direct competition with French capital. The US is keen to stress the ‘clean’ democratic capitalism it represents, as opposed to the corrupt, autocratic capitalism of Franco/Belgian Africa. In a sense, American imperialism is employing anti-colonialism to expand its influence and power in this region.

From this perspective, South Africa plays a key role in this new scramble. The former apartheid South Africa was never in a position to export finance capital in any real sense but only to attract workers from the poor, devastated countries and economies around them - even if the vagaries of the Cold War and the dangers of the ‘communist threat’ enabled it to assume an imperialist role, albeit of a very junior nature. Now the situation is different. American and British capital hopes to use democratic South Africa as a bridgehead into the rest of southern Africa, where it can ‘regulate’ capitalist exploitation. Make it more like ‘back home’, in other words.

Naturally, the South Africa of Nelson Mandela is a willing accomplice in this imperialist game plan. It is trying to act as power broker in Zaire, engaging in furious diplomatic activity. Nelson Mandela is in constant telephone contact with Mobutu, while last week he abruptly hurried away from a parliamentary debate on his budget speech in order to greet Laurent Kabila, who had flown in from Zaire. Mandela, like US imperialism, is anxious that the transfer of power to Kabila should be as peaceful as possible.

This has also been the attitude of the mining companies in Zaire, a country which possesses enormous mineral wealth. De Beers, the diamond mining cartel, has dumped Mobutu forthwith and - after decades of colluding with Mobutu in the naked plunder and robbery of Zaire - is now desperately attempting to curry favour with Kabila. It signed a $1 billion deal to mine copper, cobalt and zinc with him last week. Part of this included a large down-payment to fund the rebel’s war drive. Ironically in some respects, the rebels have demonstrated their commitment to the free market and the ‘rigours of competition’ by flirting heavily with De Beers’ main rival, American Mineral Fields, who have also signed a deal, worth £625 million. Under Mobutu, De Beers had a monopoly. Now, its head of operations in Kinshasa has had to fly to Goma to meet Kabila and acquiesce to his demands - and pay up too.

‘Normal’ capitalism is corning into play. You could argue that Mobutuism was a substitute for capitalist exploitation, rather than the ‘real thing’. As Kabila and his army wait for their moment of glory, world imperialism is also waiting its moment.

Eddie Ford